The Life of China’s Communist Party; A campaign for communist discipline confronts a generation focused on personal fulfillment

The Life of China’s Communist Party

A campaign for communist discipline confronts a generation focused on personal fulfillment


Oct. 18, 2013 8:57 p.m. ET

The scene evokes memories of a more certain and compliant era. Xi Jinping, the General Secretary of the world’s most powerful organization, sits with his arms folded, leaning watchfully on a conference table at which members of the committee of the communist party in China’s Hebei province are writing “self-criticisms.” Mr. Xi, the party’s chief and the nation’s president (the latter being the lesser role), has been touring the country, ensuring that party members everywhere bow their heads in the face of the Maoist “mass line” campaign he is directing. This will restore discipline to the party, Mr. Xi believes, and regain the respect of ordinary folk who have become skeptical in the face of corruption, a soaring wealth gap and an aristocratic attitude among officials.If the errant ways of some party officials are the problem—there about 83 million members within a population of 1.3 billion—the solution is also sought within. The party is China’s great given, sitting above and beyond even the national constitution. But the times are changing, and the party no longer dominates Chinese life as it once did. Most of China’s middle class is on a very different kind of long march, through the famous international tourist destinations and the great global universities.

The broader Chinese population knows only in the most general way how the party works. It holds its secrets close to its chest. The party’s core features include the selection of the best and brightest, the top-down flow of information and constant self-criticism, designed to ensure a sense of vulnerability rather than of entitlement among its members (even if the presumption that they were born to rule is proving hard to shift).

Liu Meiling (not her real name, for fear of endangering her party position) is a smart, ambitious woman in her 30s who works for a foreign-Chinese joint venture in Wuhan, an ancient but dynamic city of 10 million in central China. Every month, she and about a third of her 40 colleagues in one section of the firm file into a special party meeting room, either during their lunch hour or just after work. When their general manager enters, he wears, metaphorically, a different hat—as general secretary of the firm’s party branch.

Most of the foreigners working there aren’t aware that their firm has a party branch. They might be surprised to discover that someone as modern-minded, fluent in English and generally savvy as Ms. Liu is a member. Why is the party still so attractive to aspiring young Chinese? The main draw is success. Joining the party opens the door to almost unlimited career opportunities.

Ms. Liu became a precocious young communist in high school. Her parents were both members already, and she was invited to join. She applied by writing an essay. “You have to state your shortcomings,” she says. “One is enough. Usually people will say something modest, like ‘I’m not seriously minded.'”

Members are mostly passive at meetings, she says. When officials read statements by party leaders, “We comment how wise they are. Always very wise. But they are very dull. No real business is conducted.” After Ms. Liu graduated, her father helped her to obtain her first job. “I knew he could do that,” she says. But she didn’t like it: “I read and reread the novel ‘Jane Eyre.’ Like her, I wanted to be myself.”

By now, Ms. Liu’s enthusiasm for the party has waned. “People separate this party involvement out from their understanding of the world,” she says. “Their membership is like an altar with a Buddha on it. It looks good in its place, but for most people it doesn’t penetrate into real life.”

Members of the emerging generation feel that they owe their comfortable lifestyle not to the party but to their family’s own efforts. And, of course, they communicate obsessively online, often bursting through the boundaries the party-state seeks to maintain.

If Mr. Xi persists in trying to restore some measure of the party discipline and passion of the Mao years, he also may revive memories that the party has chosen to keep buried—of the tens of millions who starved due to the Great Leap Forward or of the anarchic cruelties of the Cultural Revolution.

During his decade at the top, Mr. Xi is likely to face a challenge in maintaining the party as a political apparatus with a moral imperative to rule. For many of its younger members, it has become little more than a qualification that caps their CVs, the ultimate fraternity.

About bambooinnovator
Kee Koon Boon (“KB”) is the co-founder and director of HERO Investment Management which provides specialized fund management and investment advisory services to the ARCHEA Asia HERO Innovators Fund (, the only Asian SMID-cap tech-focused fund in the industry. KB is an internationally featured investor rooted in the principles of value investing for over a decade as a fund manager and analyst in the Asian capital markets who started his career at a boutique hedge fund in Singapore where he was with the firm since 2002 and was also part of the core investment committee in significantly outperforming the index in the 10-year-plus-old flagship Asian fund. He was also the portfolio manager for Asia-Pacific equities at Korea’s largest mutual fund company. Prior to setting up the H.E.R.O. Innovators Fund, KB was the Chief Investment Officer & CEO of a Singapore Registered Fund Management Company (RFMC) where he is responsible for listed Asian equity investments. KB had taught accounting at the Singapore Management University (SMU) as a faculty member and also pioneered the 15-week course on Accounting Fraud in Asia as an official module at SMU. KB remains grateful and honored to be invited by Singapore’s financial regulator Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to present to their top management team about implementing a world’s first fact-based forward-looking fraud detection framework to bring about benefits for the capital markets in Singapore and for the public and investment community. KB also served the community in sharing his insights in writing articles about value investing and corporate governance in the media that include Business Times, Straits Times, Jakarta Post, Manual of Ideas, Investopedia, TedXWallStreet. He had also presented in top investment, banking and finance conferences in America, Italy, Sydney, Cape Town, HK, China. He has trained CEOs, entrepreneurs, CFOs, management executives in business strategy & business model innovation in Singapore, HK and China.

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